I had a terrific conversation about my book "Why Can't We Just Play? What I Did When I Realized My Kids Were Way Too Busy" with Dr. Mike of PediaCast. Here we discuss the benefits, logistics and impact of pulling back and unplugging from an overly-scheduled family life. Our chat is a lot of fun ... and I talk about the surprising ways that summer changed me.
Last year I noticed something new in the halls of our elementary school. Outside the music room was a huge mural - clearly made by children – that asked fellow students, “Stressed Out?” The poster offered gentle advice on how to deal: “Breathe”, “All We Have is Here and Now”, Think Calm Thoughts, This Too Will Pass, “Read a Good Book”.
The phrases were carefully lettered in crayon with child-like printing, which to me made it all the more surprising and sad. Sixth-graders, experienced in being over-stressed, were giving advice to second graders to help them adjust to being over-stressed.
When we think of stress for grade-school children, we typically think of some anxiety surrounding a teacher, or a particular subject they dislike, or perhaps they’re worried about a kid that bullied them in the past. But stress in the younger grades is now much more complicated than that. If you are a parent, you know about the homework, the after-school activities, the smartphones, the competitive athletics, the lack of down time. In terms of schedules and pressure – nine is the new 15. But did you realize that our children are so stressed out they need to tell each other “Breathe” because “This Too Will Pass”?
What I See
In my duties as an instructional aide I see children in class, at lunch and at recess. I see how they learn, how they play, and I overhear their conversations. Last year I heard a 6th grade girl moan to her friend on a Friday afternoon “I don’t know when I’m going to do my homework. I have a game tonight, a birthday party for my cousin tomorrow and another game on Sunday. I’m so stressed out.”
This 11 year old kid had every minute of her weekend planned, and none of it included free play – none of it included any freedom. Every minute was spoken for. No wonder she was stressed. She felt she had no breathing room.
Topping it all off is that even when the kids are “free” they are on their phones, which puts them under pressure to be on Snap or Instagram or the latest social media fad. It’s yet another way they need to conform and measure up.
I don’t know when adults became confused about what childhood is supposed to look like. Most of us had a childhood that included plenty of play –why do we think it needs to be different for our kids? Perhaps at some point prevailing wisdom dictated that we could “improve” our kids if we gave them lots of scheduled activities and lessons instead of just allowing them to play. But the past 10 years have proven that flat wrong. Children are more overweight, more anxious and less confident than ever.
What can parents do?
Ask your child if they feel they have enough time to play. Especially if they seem stressed. Make sure they seem to be answering honestly, not just giving you the answer they think you want to hear. They may have subliminally gotten a message from our culture that they are too old to play and feel embarrassed about asking for it.
Trust me – nine, ten, or eleven years old is not too old to goof around on a playground. I see them do it every day at recess. They are not allowed to have their phones, and there is minimal adult supervision, so they are free to play as they like. They play made up games, they play tag, they pretend to be super heroes. They play old-style games like Four Square and Red Rover. They play boys-chase-girls. They do cartwheels. They dig in the sand for “treasures” and make piles of old bottlecaps and other trash and then guard their booty. They scream and show off. They act like kids. It’s fantastic.
Play is the way kids reduce their stress. We can’t change their world. But we can help them to cope with stress by making sure play is a part of it. Protecting their play time is the first step in teaching them how to care for themselves. They get one childhood. It should be fun.
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It's been about two weeks since the "Listen to Your Mother" show, North Jersey. We did two sold out shows on Saturday, May 7, and it was a fantastic way to celebrate Mother's Day.
Here we are signing our posters in between shows.
"Listen to Your Mother" is an event where people stand up and tell a story about motherhood - their own or someone else's. You don't have to be a writer or performer to do this, but some of us are.
Mostly, it's just ordinary people who choose to share a story.
Well, they seem ordinary. Until you hear their stories.
Listen to Your Mother is a national event that is staged every year in over 40 cities. Check it out next year in your area. In the meantime, you will see all of our stories on YouTube in just a few months.
The "Listen To Your Mother" show is this weekend! We are doing two shows at _SOPAC ...
Of course I need something new to wear.
So I tried on a few dresses ...
And then a few more.
I've narrowed it down ...
to a few selections ...
But I still have time to decide.
Did I mention the show is filmed for You Tube?
The show is filled with funny, surprising and amazing stories. I just want my dress to measure up to the level of inspiring content.
I may be asking too much of a dress. More news later from the "Listen To Your Mother" countdown.
"Why Can't We Just Play?" officially hits bookstores on April 5. (However, many people who "pre-ordered" have already received their books.)
I will be giving book talk/signing on Tuesday, April 5, at 7:30 p.m. Save the date!
You can buy books at that time, or you can bring books that you already purchased and have me sign them, or you can just come and join in the fun without buying a book at all.
I love the library! (685 Elm Avenue, River Edge)
My books will be available there, too, for checking out.
I hope to have many other events around Bergen County and beyond in the coming months. But I am thrilled that the River Edge Library will be my first.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
I needed an appropriate picture of myself for publicity for my book “Why Can’t We Just Play?” In the recent past, whenever I’ve needed a picture for any project I’m doing, I usually dug one up from around the house.
Sometimes it’s something that my husband had snapped spur of the moment ...
Sometimes it had Baxter in it ...
Or it could be a picture that doesn't feature me at all!
But now, with my book coming out (have I mentioned I have a book coming out?) it was time to get professional about it.
I called my friend, photographer Loreen Lesso, because
a) I knew she would take terrific pictures,
b) I knew I would feel comfortable posing for her, and
c) she wanted to let Baxter be in some of them!
We were hoping for a cloudy day, because we wanted to shoot outdoors.
But it turned out to be sunny, so we shot mostly indoors. She was so relaxed and professional, and we had a lot of fun. Plus, she has a great tip for a way to diminish wrinkles in photographs.
Put an adorable dog in the picture! No one will care about your wrinkles!
Thank you Loreen! xoxo
Our local paper had a nice write up about five food groups you should eat this year to improve your health. The suggestions will surprise you, and not in a good way. In other words, cheese is not listed.
Topping the list of good foods is “ancient grains”. Apparently present-day grains are just not cutting it anymore, and we need to go Biblical on it. Amaranth, faro and spelt are among the favorites. I can’t wait to grind them with my pestle after a long walk through the desert.
These grains can replace brown rice and quinoa. Replace quinoa? I never even adopted quinoa! OK, I ate in a restaurant once or twice, but I didn’t see the need to repeat the experience. Also listed are bulgar, millet, and khorasan wheat. These items may be in my local Shoprite, but I haven’t noticed them yet. Shoprite recently reorganized, and it took me ten visits to realize that the protein bars were relocated to the allergy section near the baby products. With that logic, I don’t know how much luck I’ll have finding the millet.
It’s a good idea to vary your grains, they say, because sticking to a healthy diet is easier when you have lots of variety.
FYI - there are a great many varieties of cheese.
Olives are highly recommended, which I found encouraging, and of course they stress vegetables. It is suggested that we try a fun new idea by swapping a vegetable into a meat recipe, such as using a cauliflower “steak” on the grill. I'm saying no thanks to that.
They recommend seeds. Pumpkin, sunflower and chia (it's not just a gimmicky pet - it's food!). I like the salty crunch of seeds, but scrounging around in a bag and scooping seeds into my open maw gives me a sad, down market feeling, as if I’m about to load the car to leave the Dust Bowl and head west to look for work picking fruit. Seeds are fine on a hike or picnic, but nibbling on little seeds as a regular snack would mean my fingers would get all moist and mushed up by my mouth, ruining my darling fresh lipstick.
A new item on the healthy foods list was pulses. In fact, the United Nations is calling 2016 “International year of the Pulses.” Yes, they are. And here's why: pulses are not just good for you, they are also part of a sustainable planet and growing them is very good for the environment. What are pulses, you ask, and how can I make this amazing food source a part of my meal plan? They are lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas. In other words – legumes.
Why they are now called pulses is beyond me. I always called them legumes. Perhaps nobody paid attention to them when they were called legumes, so they decided to change their name, like pop stars do when they want more attention.
I really want to eat well, and I want my family to do so as well. I have been thinking of trying to cook more in a “Mediterranean” diet, which I think may be healthiest way to eat. I haven’t actually cooked anything Mediterranean yet, but I’m working up to it. Perhaps I could try a pulse. With cheese, of course.
As part of my LIST series (which is officially a series now because this is my third LIST article) I caught up with Robin Rothstein, playwright and producer/writer/lyricist for MAD LIBS LIVE, a new musical for families off Broadway. I have been friends with Robin since we worked together in a sketch comedy group in NYC in the 1990s. It was Robin’s idea several years ago to turn the popular Mad Libs game into a musical, which just goes to show you what a bold and creative thinker she is. But can she make a list?
Robin: I do make lists, I hand write them. I never type them, and I use a Sharpie in black or blue. Then I’ll add red stars, or highlighting … then I cross things off so it gets so messy, then I transfer the things that haven’t been done to a new list, but some things need to be done again even if I already did them once, so I transfer them too.
Pam: You sent me his list 10 days ago. When I finally called you for the interview, I suggested that list might be too old and you said, no, that list was still good. The same list is good for 10 days? Do you ever actually do anything on your list?
Robin: It’s not actually a daily list – not a one day thing. If I feel like I’m procrastinating, then transferring it to another fresh paper feels like I’m trying to make it happen, because I have prioritized it to a new piece of paper …
Pam: (laughing) I do the same thing! Now, on this list, discount codes are highlighted and starred. Have you taken care of them?
Robin: Sort of. That’s an ongoing thing … discount codes always need to be added if we get a new discount group, for example a youth group. I have the producer credit, in addition to be the book writer/lyricist on Mad Libs Live, so it’s my job to do these other things.
Pam: And I should point out that you are also a Director of Operations at Broadway Across America, so you are fitting in your writing/producing of Mad Libs Live! around a pretty busy full time job. What about the Mad Libs Live! website? Do you write any of the content for that?
Robin: Well, right now for that I have to write bios of the four characters in the play. I need the right kind of mental space for that task, though. It’s not something I can just squeeze in the middle of a busy day. I have been working on it but it’s not finished.
Pam: This is a list for work stuff, do you have a personal list? Like “buy rain boots” or “get teeth cleaned”?
Robin: Doctor appointments go on my calendar, then I’ll use a calendar reminder because I have so many pieces of paper and post-its for the show that I don’t want to commingle them …
Pam: Mm hm.
Robin: I do have one-day lists. I usually use a piece of paper - recycled paper –
Pam: Of course …
Robin: Sometimes just a half even - and then put it my back pocket. If I have a real urgency, like I am almost out of clean clothes - I will leave a piece of paper on the floor of my apartment with a note written in Sharpie like LAUNDRY - so I will see it when I walk home.
Pam: So, then you just walk in and see the note on the floor.
Pam: So, you have the note on the floor … you have calendar reminders. And a handwritten work list. And post its. And that piece of paper in your back pocket.
Robin: Yes, I guess I do.
Pam: But it’s working for you! Let’s talk about Mad Libs Live! The title seems to say it all – the audience gets to give words to the actors! It sounds like a blast. Is it improvised?
Robin: The story line stays the same – four teens enter a singing contest – but their songs are missing words and so they need the audience's help to fill in all the blanks. The target age for the kids in this audience are 7-10 years – they give words which are placed in buckets onstage and the actors draw from them and incorporate them into their songs. Sometimes the performers call out the names of the kids who gave the suggested words. The kids love it when they use their words, but they really love it when their names are called out. You can find out more on Mad Libs Live!
Pam: So, what is next for Mad Libs Live! after its off-Broadway run at New World Stages?"
Robin: Well, my team and I are hoping the show will tour, or get picked up by a licensing house. We've already had some strong interest, so that's a great sign. It's a really good show for school groups because we incorporate grammar in a fun, educational way, so I'm hoping lots and lots of kids around the country get to see Mad Libs Live!
Then Robin and I incorporated a little grammar of our own. I asked her for an adjective, a noun and an emotion and did my own Mad Libs. Robin’s sentence was this:
My list is smelly and I carry it in my cable box . I would feel desperation without it.
Pam: I feel exactly the same way. Thank you, Robin!
Mad Libs Live runs weekends through January 4. The show is at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street) on Saturdays at 11:00 and 4:30 and Sundays at 12:00 and 3:00. Click here for tickets.